I’ve spent a lot of my time in ministry dealing with aesthetics in one way or another. I’ve done video work, screen design, stage design, lighting design, print material, and obviously music, just to name a few. I’ve had great (and difficult) conversations with people regarding how things are perceived and how we can best communicate the gospel in our culture while using aesthetics to serve and support. I love thinking and leading in the realm of creative communication that is more than just words, and I’m hoping it’s something that I can continue to sharpen and develop in my masters studies at Regent, and even have some aspirations about writing a book dealing with aesthetics in worship someday.
I’ve learned that aesthetics matter deeply, for a ton of reasons. I’m not going to get into all of them now, but simply said I think that everything that is experienced through the senses communicates something to every individual and can help show them who God is by reflecting his beauty and creativity and removing other distractions. To really unpack that at every level is a ton of work, and something I’m not sure we ever do really well. Some do it better than others. The challenge of the outworking of this once the importance of aesthetics is realized is to not simply copy someone else. Many people want to think that good aesthetics means that their church service needs to look like North Point or some other large church, when in fact it needs to be more nuanced and relational than that.
We are a people of place and culture, and one of the beautiful things about this world that God made is that every place and culture is slightly different. I’ve had the opportunity to live in five very different places across Canada in my adult life (if I can count the two weeks I’ve now been in BC), and I’ve had the privilege of leading in dozens if not hundreds of churches in almost every province in that time. The beauty of our diversity is that aesthetics mattering means that churches should look and sound and feel different to best break down the barriers to the gospel in their unique culture. I’ve had to learn as I’ve travelled to become a bit of a chameleon and I’ve so enjoyed learning the nuanced differences of how churches use aesthetics to reach people and build worship practices.
There are lots of principals that could be touted as standard practices or at least important things to know about to remove distractions and have good aesthetics, but there are also tons of things that can be done differently for good reason. That’s one of the beautiful things about the church – it’s not cookie cutter Starbucks franchising, but it’s a living community of relationships with those involved, those in the community surrounding, and our great God of Grace.
At the end of the day though, aesthetics will never stand in the way of or become anywhere near as important as the gospel. God works in spite of our poor or amazing aesthetics, and we must never lose sight of why we care about any of the details and often trust that the Spirit will move exceeding our efforts or best intentions. The beauty that we can create and manipulate ourselves always pales in comparison to the work of God in his children’s lives.